By Tony Brancato
The picui dove (Columbina picui) is a diminutive dove of the New World. The picui dove is a lot smaller than the common domestic ringnecked dove but larger than a diamond dove.
This little dove has a whitish throat and forehead with narrow black stripes from the eye to the mouth. The color of the crown and nape are ashy-gray with grayish-brown on the mantle, back and rump. The wing coverts, secondaries, upper tail coverts and central tail feathers are fawn colored with a pink cast. There is also an iridescent blackish stripe across the lesser coverts. The outer wing coverts and outer secondaries have a beautiful broad white stripe along the wing when the wing is opened or closed. The picui's primaries and primary coverts are a rich black. The neck and breast are pinkish-gray with shading nearly white on the belly. The tail coverts underneath are white as well. The underside of the wings are jet black. The bill is dark gray to black, and the feet and legs are reddish-purple. The eyes are extraordinary. The eyes of both sexes are lavender. Some individual picuis have lilac eyes, others deep purple.
The sexes are nearly alike. The female is a wee bit smaller and duller than the male. The female has grayish-pink shades less pronounced than the male. Juveniles are also a duller color and more brown than both parents.
Picui doves are native to the continent of South America. They range from northeastern Brazil, south to Argentina, central Chile and Uruguay. Picuis are found in a variety of environments. They inhabit forest areas, savannas, open range lands, cultivated farms and gardens in cities, towns and villages.
Picui doves are primarily ground feeders. Their diet consists of small seeds, including cultivated domestic grains. They feed in small to large flocks. Picui doves are swift, darting flyers. In the wild, they nest in shrubs and trees. Picuis lay two tiny white eggs in a typical flimsily constructed nest of dried grasses and small twigs. Both parents incubate and care for the young squabs.
Picui Doves In Captivity
Picui doves are excellent aviary birds. Their diminutive size is ideal for the collector with limited aviary space. This little dove is not hostile to other smaller species of birds. However, they are aggressive with each other. I recommend one pair per aviary. Males can be pugnacious towards other same-species males. Unless the aviary is very large, it is prudent to keep one pair per aviary. Not too many years ago, picui doves were common in most collections. Due to inbreeding and poor management, these lovely doves are not as common or plentiful as they used to be. The good news is that some importations of this species will be made in the near future.
I have raised picuis for a number of years. Some years I've had excellent luck with them and other years no breeding occurred. The young tend to fledge quite early. This is a problem. I have to be extremely careful when handling baby picuis. I usually put a napkin over the baby and gently place it back into the nest. If you do not use a napkin or cloth, the little guy will jump out as soon as you put him in the nest. Or he may just die of fright in your hand. Young picuis that leave the nest will certainly get chilled and die if they are not put into the nest before nightfall. Sometimes it is impossible to determine where the nest is. In that case, I take the young picuis and put them in a heated box overnight and put them back into the aviary the next day.
Because picuis are small doves, they relish small seeds and grains. Their diet consists mostly of enriched finch seedand some spray millet, safflower seed and niger or thistle seed. Many of our doves love some soft foods. The picuis are no different. Every other day I feed all of our doves steamed rice, mixed with raw grated carrots, sprinkled with vitamins, yellow corn meal, and raw chopped-shelled sunflower seeds. Fresh water and health grit, as well as cuttlebone, should always be available for doves.
A secure, draft-free aviary is essential. Picuis, like other doves, love sunshine. They thrive in a sunny, dry, warm environment. For breeders and collectors that have outdoor aviaries, protection from the cold is important. This species is from warm lands. They cannot tolerate exposure for prolonged periods of time to cold, inclement weather. Some avian fanciers bring their cold sensitive species indoors during the winter. A warm, sunny south or southeast room will do. Basements are much too dark, unless the birds are provided with natural full-spectrum lighting.
This species is prone to internal parasites. A regular worming schedule is a must. Fecal material taken to your avian veterinarian will determine if your doves have worms. Your avian vet can recommend the correct medication for these small doves. Doves that are kept on earthen-floor aviaries are more at risk than doves housed on wooden floors.
Picui doves are very wild and extremely fearful of humans. This species does best if not confined in a small aviary. Bird cages of any size are out of the question. They are remarkably beautiful in a planted aviary where they feel safe and secure. Many South American dove species are quite pugnacious. The picui is no exception. They are quarrelsome among themselves, but are not aggressive with other small doves or avian species. It is a challenge on the part of the keeper to provide these incredible little doves with a natural environment that will encourage them to breed. They are certainly worth the extra effort and time. Just one look at their beautiful eyes, and I was hooked!
If you have a question for Tony Brancato, send him an e-mail care of BIRD BREEDER at firstname.lastname@example.org. We regret that columnists are not able to respond to letters individually.
Tony Brancato has bred doves and pigeons for 35 years. He currently breeds 25 species of seed-eating foreign doves. Brancato lives on the Central Coast of California.